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Fèis Ìle 2019 Official Bottlings

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Ardbeg Drum; Bowmore 15 Years Old, Fèis Ìle 2019; Bunnahabhain 2001 Sauternes Cask Finish, Fèis Ìle 2019; Caol Ila 22 Years Old, Fèis Ìle 2019; Kilchoman, Fèis Ìle 2019; Lagavulin 19 Years Old, Fèis Ìle 2019; Laphroaig Cairdeas, Fèis Ìle 2019; Octomore Event Horizon, Fèis Ìle 2019

Dave Broom does a roundup of (most) of this year’s official Fèis Ìle bottlings (some were sold out before he could grab ‘em). The conclusion? This has been a stellar year. It’s interesting, or just plain weird, how the whiskies move from lighter to heavier in alphabetical order. There are nods of similarity between the many variations on smoke, oils, resinous elements, sweetness and fruit, yet they all retain their individuality.

Ardbeg sets the tempo for this week’s tastings with its non-age-statement single malt, Drum. Having been finished in ex-rum casks from the Americas, the expression stays in keeping with its Caribbean theme with elements of bananas, coconut and smoke.  

The youngest of Bowmore’s 2019 festival releases is a 15-year-old whisky aged in ex-Bourbon casks (the other was a 23-year-old Sherry cask), with salty aromas that combine with tropical fruits and citric qualities to create a ‘summery’ dram.

Heading to north Islay, this time for Bunnahabhain’s 2001 Sauternes cask finish. Sweet and rich, ripe fruits bring a lusciousness that cannot be tempered, even with the addition of water. It was one of three festival releases from the distillery, alongside a 1988 Champagne cask finish and 2008 Moine (peated) whisky finished in French oak – neither of which Broom was able to taste.

Having spent 22 years maturing in Sherry-treated American oak hogsheads, Caol Ila’s festival release offers complex yet balanced layers of oilskins, blue fruits, peat and mint. ‘At £130 it is a steal,’ says Broom.

A sweet shop meets a chef’s kitchen with Kilchoman’s festival release, a vatting of a 2007 ex-Bourbon cask and 2008 ex-oloroso Sherry butt. Notes of burnt rosemary and thyme mingle with strawberry Haribo and foam bananas to create a soft, understated dram.

Things take a heavy turn with Lagavulin’s expression, a 19-year-old whisky with weighty layers of dark fruits, peat bonfire and liquorice that lead to a long, smouldering finish.

Bottled exclusively for the Friends of Laphroaig collective, the 2019 Laphroaig Càirdeas expression is a ‘triple-matured’ oily and resinous whisky, softened only by its green elements of eucalyptus and chypre.

Bruichladdich brings the first batch of 2019 Fèis Ìle tastings to a ‘massive’ close, with the oldest Octomore released by the distillery – Event Horizon. With smoke balancing a strong Sherried influence, this is not a dram for the faint-hearted, says Broom. 

The playlist kicks off with Love and Santana on the beach, dallies a while with Zappa, chills with Shabaka Hutchings and Jon Hassell before taking a heavier turn with Cream, Zeppelin and finally the imploding weight of King Crimson.

Scoring Explained

Overview

  • Ardbeg Drum

    Score

    86

    Ardbeg Drum
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    46%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islay
    Flavour camp
    Smoky & Peaty
    Nose

    This is the standard bottling rather than the Committee release, which was reviewed in Batch 190. It shares its stronger brother’s piney opening – Christmas trees and juniper. The hint of vetiver is also retained. If anything, the rum accents are increased, with riper banana, apricot and coconut coming through. The smoke is integrated and (relatively) subtle.

    Palate

    A gentle and soft start lulls you into a false sense of security, even at the mid-palate, although there is a more noticeable tickle of smoke. The flavours are all soft fruits (fruit salad now), touches of creamy vanilla and some lime. Then it starts to do that Ardbeg thing where the smoke asserts itself and the energy starts to build, the phenols increasing in power as they spread out. Never however does it dominate; there’s just a shift in focus.

    Finish

    Now, along with the sooty smoke, there’s an unusual hint of damp (peated) barley.

    Conclusion

    Relaxing and summery. A Piña Colada by a beach bonfire. Job done, I’d say.

    Right place, right time

    Along the beach, through the palm trees, She Comes In Colours.

    Available to buy from The Whisky Exchange. It may also be stocked by these other retailers.
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    Bowmore 15 Years Old, Fèis Ìle 2019

    Score

    87

    Bowmore 15 Years Old, Fèis Ìle 2019
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    51.7%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islay
    Availability
    3,000 bottles
    Flavour camp
    Smoky & Peaty
    Nose

    An interesting one. Light in colour, and very pure and mineral-like to start. Gentle smoke, salt and chalk, then drying smoked (Hebridean) salt. There is also a wisp of delicate florals (artificial rose) and a fresh, zesty, lemony citric quality. It’s rather discreet. A little softer with water, with added notes of new book smells and touches of pineapple.

    Palate

    It starts very juicy and creamy with some of Bowmore’s distinctly tropical fruits in there: mango especially, though this is still on the quiet side. Halfway through, things change significantly and become more saline. This then seems to reverse the flow, sweeping forward along with the smoke. Water accentuates the whisky’s sweetness and its citric nature; now things have moved to yuzu and grapefruit.

    Finish

    Salty, with a bracing, clean acidity.

    Conclusion

    All ex-Bourbon cask. A subtle and pure Bowmore with low wood impact. A summery companion to the Ardbeg.

    Right place, right time

    On the shores of Loch Indaal, the band plays a Samba Pa Ti.

    Bunnahabhain 2001 Sauternes Cask Finish, Fèis Ìle 2019

    Score

    86

    Bunnahabhain 2001 Sauternes Cask Finish, Fèis Ìle 2019
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    54.2%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islay
    Availability
    1,118 bottles
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    You might pick up a tiny struck match on the opening but this flashes off, leaving a vinous quality with thick, baked fruits, some honeycomb, citronella, peaches (in syrup) and also a surprising smoked meat note. This then sinks into clotted cream dribbled with orange Muscat and some sour cherry, adding a little bite.

    Palate

    As the nose suggests this is concentrated, sweet and rich, with those ripe fruits lying heavily on the tongue. More apricots now, with a balancing crunch of cereal towards the back. Water does nothing to alter this overall lusciousness.

    Finish

    Long, clinging and sweet. Light ginger.

    Conclusion

    The five years spent in Sauternes casks (‘Is that a finish or secondary maturation?’ asks Pedantic Ed.) has added extra sweetness and richness without making things too cloying.

    Right place, right time

    Heavy Peaches En Regalia.

    Caol Ila 22 Years Old, Fèis Ìle 2019

    Score

    92

    Caol Ila 22 Years Old, Fèis Ìle 2019
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    54.8%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islay
    Availability
    3,000 bottles
    Flavour camp
    Smoky & Peaty
    Nose

    Immediately complex, rich and decadent. Very oily as well, like sea-wet oilskins. This maritime edge then starts to give way to sweet spices (cassia and mace), some applewood, a surprising (for Caol Ila) mintiness, then Szechuan pepper, before sweet, ripe blue fruits emerge alongside agave syrup, castor oil and layers of peat. Highly complex.

    Palate

    Elegantly unfolds itself across the tongue, starting with heavy, rich fruits, some of the oiliness and a little prickle of spice. Everything seems to coalesce in the centre of the tongue before the smoke starts to peel off. The effect is like sitting on the beach in the sunshine eating ripe, dark fruits, then a cooling salt-laden breeze comes in. Water adds a light menthol touch, along with some juniper and more overt smokiness.

    Finish

    Long, gentle and complex.

    Conclusion

    In what is a great year for the bottlings this one, for me at least, had the greatest balance and complexity – and at £130 it is a steal.

    Right place, right time

    The sensation of a Star Exploding In Slow Motion.

    Kilchoman Fèis Ìle 2019

    Score

    89

    Kilchoman Fèis Ìle 2019
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    54.4%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islay
    Availability
    939
    Flavour camp
    Smoky & Peaty
    Nose

    This is very Kilchoman in its understated quality and, like the Caol Ila, there’s a light mintiness to begin with. This then moves further down the herbal route – there’s an almost garrigue-like quality to it, like thyme and rosemary to the fire. The smoke seems quite subtle, hanging like a soft cloud above it all. In time you get hints of seashore before a dried fruit funkiness snaps you back into focus. Things never become too heavy or wood-dominant. When water is added more peat is released, along with peppermint.

    Palate

    Kilchoman often has flavours that take you back to a sweet shop. Here it’s strawberry Haribo and foam bananas. As these start to melt there’s some crème brûlée elements, some tangerine and a touch of clove. There’s an overall suppleness to the delivery while the smoke is beautifully integrated. It starts to break free and becomes more defined when water is added.

    Finish

    Long and gentle.

    Conclusion

    A soft and refined dram, resulting from a vatting of a first-fill ex-Bourbon barrel and an ex-oloroso Sherry cask.

    Right place, right time

    Calmly watching the Light On Water.

    Lagavulin 19 Years Old, Fèis Ìle 2019

    Score

    90

    Lagavulin 19 Years Old, Fèis Ìle 2019
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    53.8%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islay
    Availability
    6,000 bottles
    Flavour camp
    Smoky & Peaty
    Nose

    Now things begin to take a more distinctly heavy turn – but without losing the harmonising sweetness which is vital in a balanced, smoky whisky. This starts off with classic Lagavulin rough shag mixed with bog myrtle, the green notes of bay laurels and the pine elements in Lapsang Souchong tea. Alongside this is a rich and robust plummy character; some chocolate ganache with black cherry. The smoke rumbles away, rolling inexorably forward – especially after water is added. Dense, rich and concentrated.

    Palate

    As you might expect from that nose, this is thickly layered and highly complex. It clings to the tongue, with the dark fruits building in weight and silkiness as it reaches the centre, tendrils of scented smoke winding out, adding another layer of complexity. There’s a drier edge now – the ashes of a peat bonfire on the beach along with some seaweed, that bay laurel element, sloe, liquorice and date.

    Finish

    There’s a spark at the back of the throat, which sets the fires burning. You could add water to soften this down or simply let it smoulder into a long finish.

    Conclusion

    A turbo-charged distiller’s edition. This has sweetness and smoke, but also an extra layer of richness and complexity. A classic, big-boned Laga’.

    Right place, right time

    A Strange Brew.

    Laphroaig Càirdeas, Fèis Ìle 2019

    Score

    89

    Laphroaig Càirdeas, Fèis Ìle 2019
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    51.4%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islay
    Availability
    36,000 bottles
    Flavour camp
    Smoky & Peaty
    Nose

    They keep on getting bigger. This cannot be described as a shy Laphroaig. Instead it is hugely oily and very resinous (shades of the Ardbeg and a hint of what’s to come with the Octomore) with some moss and green fig. There’s just sufficient vanilla (and salted caramel) to add a soft pause, before you are tangled up in kelp and tarry ropes.

    Palate

    Thick and textured; it seems to stick your lips together. There’s an almost brutal power to it before those green elements kick in, adding extra eucalyptus and chypre. The resinous wood is retained, but now it’s smouldering. That in turn is balanced by super-ripe black fruits. The robust phenols then emerge, with tar and bitumen.

    Finish

    A roiling mass of peat.

    Conclusion

    This cask strength version of Three Wood (ex-Bourbon, ex-oloroso Sherry and new oak quarter casks) is classic old Laphroaig: unafraid and uncompromising. That’s how we like ‘em.

    Right place, right time

    All opposition is Trampled Underfoot.

    Octomore Event Horizon, Fèis Ìle 2019

    Score

    91

    Octomore Event Horizon, Fèis Ìle 2019
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    55.7%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islay
    Availability
    2,000 bottles
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    If you thought the last pair were big, be prepared. Instantaneously massively concentrated and liquorous, with exotic wood resin (that redwood forest note) and added sumptuous layers of black fruits (fresh, cooked and dried). The smoke is scented and somehow sweeter. In time there is a hint of horse stable, then the honeyed wildness of creeping thistle, before things take a distinctly savoury turn: bacon and sundried tomato, soy sauce, rowan berry, tar and leather. Almost overwhelming.

    Palate

    Massive, powerful and rooty, with those super-ripe black fruits, more dark chocolate, espresso and (once more) a thick and clinging oiliness. The smoke manages to balance what could be a ponderous overkill of Pedro Ximénez and oloroso Sherry. It becomes reminiscent of the sootiness of a Rhone Syrah, with some fruit jelly and the savouriness intact – as is the exotic wood. Water makes things chewy, as finally the peat oils ooze out along the tongue…

    Finish

    …and down the throat. Becomes massively phenolic.

    Conclusion

    A beast of a dram and though not one for the faint-hearted, for me it’s another must-have in a truly great year.

    Right place, right time

    Starless and Bible-black.

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